Indigenous Responses to Trump’s Muslim Ban
Written by Gabby Richichi-Fried (Bachelor of Arts in Canadian Studies, Carleton University)
Nominated by Professor M. Hogue
In the days after President Trump ordered what was widely deemed “the Muslim ban” in late January 2017, protests erupted in numerous airports as crowds called out Trump and stood in solidarity with people who found themselves unable to enter the United States. The widespread outrage and shock at the policy’s blatant racism and Islamophobia generated a burst of protests in the United States and across the border in Canada as well. Amid these protests, a video of Indigenous women drumming a welcome to Syrian refugees at the airport in Regina, Saskatchewan circulating on my Facebook newsfeed prompted me to think about the Muslim ban a bit differently.
The most talked about Indigenous-led protest against the Trump ban took place at the Los Angeles airport, many hundreds of miles away from Regina, Saskatchewan, but both acts of Indigenous presence are significant and related. While the rest of the world was calling out the racism of the ban and questioning its legal grounding, many Indigenous peoples were framing the conversation around sovereignty and land, and thus reminding us that land holds stories and histories.
In a world of benign, non-committal hashtagavism (hashtag activism), the No Ban on Stolen Land hashtag, which emerged on Twitter the days following the announcement of the immigration restrictions, might seem like just another well-meaning but ineffectual attempt to right some wrong in the world. Yet, it wasn’t until I watched that video from Regina that I thought more about this hashtag. I believe there is value in framing the racism and exclusionism of the Muslim ban as it relates to a broader American history of racialized border-making and enforcement. In this regard, the Indigenous response to the ban stands out because Indigenous people are so often written out of American immigration history, and yet, have perhaps the most long-standing experience of American exclusionism, racism and border-enforcement.
While the recent Muslim ban is deplorable, the detainment of racialized bodies through American border enforcement in nothing new. In their comprehensive look at the Angel Island immigration detention center in San Francisco, historians Erika Lee and Judy Yung trace how immigration law, often arbitrarily legislated and enforced, determined the fate of millions of immigrants and refugees. The fate of these peoples in motion was often shaped by global politics and conflict, as well as the racist, gendered, and classist assumptions that underpinned U.S. immigration policy between 1910 and 1940. Their book, Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway To America, shows that immigrants, predominantly from countries in Asia were detained and experienced much more extensive and invasive interrogation than their white-coded counterparts. Immigrants of colour were also deported at much higher rates than white immigrants. The story Lee and Yung tell is eerily similar to post-9/11 immigration history and more specifically, immigration enforcement under President Trump.
Lee and Yung’s book also allows us to break with the tendency to consider “Nativism” and “Immigrant” in dichotomous opposition. In the opening chapter, they ever so briefly touch on the Indigenous history of Angel Island which was once home and a hunting and fishing camp to the Hookooeko tribe of the Coast Miwok American Indians. I point this out because I think it’s easy to ignore how this history is related to immigration history, but consider this:
For Angel Island to exist as the highly policed, seemingly isolated, lonely place immigrants of colour experienced, Hookooeko people, the first people of what we now call Angel Island, could not exist on that land. The process of colonization that violently removed Hookooeko people from Angel Island depended on white supremacy, racialization and later the stealing and militarization of the land. (9)
Just in this very practical look at the chronological history of Angel Island, the Hookooeko people and the immigrants detained hundreds of years later are intrinsically linked not only through land but through the continual process of American nation-building.
The Indigenous activists who protested at airports earlier this year made the connection between land-taking, resettlement, and state-building as well. A CBC article on #NoBanOnStolenLand explains that until Indigenous protesters intervened, protesters were hosting a sing-a-long of “This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land.” No offence to Woody Guthrie but this classic American folk song is perhaps the epitome of settler-colonial privilege and understanding of land. The singing of that song erases the colonial violence at the foundation of the very system of border creation and enforcement people were protesting. In this way, #NoBanOnStolenLand profoundly challenges us to be accountable to history in a way we rarely are.
Back to Regina, Saskatchewan. In a less politicized way, though also in response to growing Islamophobia, those women drumming a welcome to Syrian refugees in particular were asserting their sovereignty by reminding others of Indigenous claims to land. They demanded, moreover, that people who arrive in this territory we call Canada after experiencing trauma and destruction be received with radical hospitality and care. More than that, these women and the Indigenous people who held space for a Tongva welcoming ceremony at LAX are challenging the way we understand and think about connections between land, borders and people.
Gabby Richichi-Fried is an uninvited settler who lives, loves and learns on unceded, unsurrendered Algonquin Anishinaabe territory. She is a perpetual undergrad student at Carleton University studying Indigenous and Canadian Studies.
Lee, Erika, and Judy Yung. Angel Island: immigrant gateway to America. Oxford: Oxford U Press, 2012. Print.